Horsemen from Prince Charles to Outback Steakhouse's Tim Gannon Are Passionate about Polo
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00
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Today there are 13 Outback Steakhouses in the Tampa Bay area, 46 more throughout Florida, 495 nationwide, and 33 overseas. Outback Steakhouse became the success story of the 1990s, going public in 1991 and winning the three owners Inc. magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1994. Wall Street responded to this success by continually rating Outback's stock a strong buy.
The company now boasts a $2 billion market capitalization, and the three principals have reaped multimillion-dollar returns.
After years of owning one or two horses, Gannon was finally able to enter the world of big-time polo. His first step was convincing Heatley that selling his law practice and taking charge of Outback Polo was a dream come true for both of them as well as a great life for their families.
He was right. Since the mid-1990s, Outback Polo has won two silver cups, three gold cups and three U.S. Open championships. In case anyone thinks that Outback Polo has had its fill of championships, Heatley is overseeing the final touches on the team's 40-acre polo complex in West Palm Beach County, home to some of the country's top polo organizations. U.S. Open winner John Goodman's Isla Carroll Farm, nine-time Gold Cup winner Peter Brant's White Birch Farm and Henryk de Kwiatkowski's Calumet Farm are neighbors.
In addition to Gannon's own residence, which is done in an Andalusian style typical of the Argentine pampas, the complex includes a 60-stall barn, two polo fields, a quarter-mile gallop track and a jumping ring, which is where Kathleen Gannon is schooling her father in the intricacies of hunter-jumpers (horses that compete on a course designed after fox-hunting courses).
Divorced, Gannon shares his love of horses with Kathleen, 14, and his son, Chris, 16. Kathleen trained and competed in Lake Placid last summer and is looking forward to having the home-field advantage once the equestrian circuit stops in Palm Beach. Chris has grown up playing polo and carries a one-goal handicap.
Father and son have played together on Outback teams in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in Sotogrande, Spain; last year, Chris teamed up with Gonzalito Pieres, Santiago Chavanne and Tommy Lee Jones to form Outback II, a medium-goal squad that played at Palm Beach Polo & Country Club. His father thinks that learning to take charge of a feisty horse and work on your game is a talent anyone--teenager or adult--can benefit from.
"Polo is a sport that requires total focus. That's one of the reasons it's so rewarding. You get what you give--and then some," says Gannon. Not surprisingly, a long list of other corporate heavyweights share his sentiments, including Steak & Ale founder Norman Brinker, who once won polo's U.S. Open.
Brinker has been a mentor for Gannon and his partners at Outback, all of whom worked at Steak & Ale early in their careers. During an interview at the Dallas headquarters of Brinker International, he points out that playing polo requires much the same mindset as running a business and is the ideal antidote to a demanding workweek.
"Polo is like any business, so it appeals to that same psyche," says the 64-year-old Brinker, who no longer plays but remains involved with the sport. "You get a team, you coach the team, you have a sense of direction and you know exactly where you want to go.
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